Mindfulness has become a hot topic over the last few years. With our lives becoming increasingly busy, a lot of people are looking for ways to live in the present. This is where the practice mindful running comes in.
Directed meditation combined with running or walking is becoming increasingly popular within the running community as more people look for ways to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression.
A 2016 study found that mindful running helped to reduce these symptoms by almost 40 per cent.
Being present on your run may feel like one of the hardest things to do when you’re used to so many distractions, including your own thoughts. The key is to train your brain to be at peace.
It may take you a while to reconnect with yourself on a run. However, there are mindful running tips and techniques that can help make this process that much easier.
In this guide we’ll explore:
- What is mindful running?
- The benefits of mindful running
- What is mindful movement
- 6 top tips to help you practice mindful running
What is mindful running?
Mindful running is essentially about being more mentally connected with your movement and not being distracted when you run.
According to Positive Psychology, mindful running is about bringing your attention back into the here and now.
By freeing yourself from distractions, you can experience less stress during your run, enhance your performance and even prevent injury.
Related: 6 mental tips for long runs
What are the benefits of mindful running?
Research is beginning to emerge on mindfulness and exercise that supports the benefits of mindful running.
According to a 2009 study on the effects of mindful running on long distance runners, mindfulness-based interventions had positive effects for reducing negative thoughts and levels of perceived stress.
The study also found that the number of injury occurrences were found to decrease following the integration of mindfulness-based intervention.
Here are benefits of mindful running:
- Reduces stress. Mindful running can help to reduce symptoms of competition-related stress and anxiety in elite athletes.
- Enhances performance. Mindful running can help to improve performance and focus during your run.
- Reduces the risk of injury. Various studies have shown that by having more focus on your run and being more connected with your body, this helps to reduce the risk of injury.
- Aids recovery. Mindful running has been shown to increase awareness of physical pain and improve mental health.
- Improves wellbeing. Many studies have shown the links between mindfulness and mental wellbeing amongst athletes.
What is mindful movement?
Mindful movement is essentially being mindful during movement. The most popular example of this is yoga.
People who practice yoga regularly find that it helps them get into the ‘zone’, by allowing them to focus on their breath and bring their mind into the present moment.
When it comes to running, you might want to pay attention to your breathing until you establish a rhythm or pay attention to your gait as you run. Both of these can help to bring you closer to the power of now.
Related: 6 benefits of yoga for runners
How to practice mindful running: 7 top tips
Warm up with breathing exercises
The warm up is integral to any run, but with mindful running it serves to prepare your mind and body for mindful movement.
Breathing exercises are a great way to set yourself up for success when it comes to mindful running.
Deep breathing is a great technique to employ to hep you feel calm if you ever feel anxious or stressed.
Take a few minutes to sync up with your breath before you start your run to help you stay focused while you’re running.
Here’s how to warm up with breathing exercises:
- Breathe in deeply through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly, to ensure that your diaphragm (not your chest) inflates with air.
- Do 5 to 6 deep breaths before starting your run. You can do them right after doing some pre-run warm-up exercises such as dynamic stretches.
Related: How to warm up before your run
Listen to your body
Listening to your body is a key part of any mindful running practice as it allows you to really hone into how you’re feeling on your run.
By noticing feelings and sensations on your run, listening to your body helps you differentiate between physical pain and discomfort.
Whilst a little bit of discomfort on a run is normal, if you start to feel pain, it likely means you need to slow down or stop running all together.
Knowing when to take a step back or knowing when to push yourself out of your comfort zone is an essential skill to master as a runner, and listening to your body is a great way to guide you.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- How do your legs, arms and core feel? Take note of any sensations.
- How do your arms and shoulders feel? Do you notice any tension or tightness?
- Are you tensing up any parts of your body unnecessarily?
The aim of the above exercise is not to get rid of the tension or tightness, but to simply make you aware of it.
The act of raising awareness can sometimes be enough to help relieve tension. For example, you may want to alter your running form slightly to counteract the tension.
Unplug from technology
There are a lot of positives when it comes to technology and social media, but they have made it all the more harder for us to switch off and reconnect with things like nature and the outdoors.
Ask yourself: how many times do you go out for a walk or run and take your phone with you – either to listen to music or track your run?
Whilst there are benefits to taking a phone with you for safety reasons, they can distract us from what really matters when it comes to living in the moment.
The first step to practice mindful running is forgetting about these tools for distraction like your phone and sports watch.
By getting rid of these external distractions, you give yourself more room to focus on being in the present.
Start by leaving your phone at home on a few runs here and there and see how you get on. Once you’re more comfortable without it, start to increase the amount of runs that you can safely run without your phone.
Of course, running with a phone is a safety mechanism for a lot of runners who want to have it on them in case anything goes wrong.
If this is your concern, then choose a local route that is near landmarks and allows you options in case you do get into trouble.
Ditch the music
Listening to music on your run can be a great source of motivation to keep you going on those long runs.
However, you may find it easier to practice mindful running more carefully if you ditch the music.
Listening to your breathing and observing your movements and stride is that much harder if you’re listening to music.
Many runners have reported developing a greater connection with their body and the world around them if they run without music. They also report learning a lot more about their body, such as their breathing pattern.
Not to mention, the sound of a bird or the wind blowing which can be incredibly calming – mindful running is greatly benefited by not listening to music.
Try and leave your headphones at home at least once a week and see how you feel during and after your run. If that feels like too much, take your headphones with you and run without music for part of your run.
Focus on breathing deeply when running
Many runners underestimate the importance of breathing when running. There’s no complex formula to getting it right, but mindful running can help to decode your breathing to determine where you’re at.
Mouth breathing is a stress response, whereas nostril breathing is better at keeping you in a more relaxed state. In order to bring your body out of a stress state, breathe deeply and slowly into the bottom of your lungs and really engage your diaphragm.
Breathing deeply can help you re-focus when you feel stressed or distracted and help you to achieve that calm feeling.
Give yourself plenty of time
The moment you set yourself a time limit on a run, you give yourself a distraction. Some of the best runs are when you give yourself enough time to really enjoy them.
Time limits have many benefits if you’re training for a race or wanting to beat your PB, but for a mindful run, it’s best to forget about how quickly you want to run and just surrender to the moment.
Often on long runs, it’s beneficial to take the time to absorb the environment around you. Run exploring and having time to do this creates a better mindful running experience.